Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a preventable disease. Successful pertussis vaccine use has drastically reduced the number of pertussis cases in the United States, but recent statistics show there are still between 10,000 and 40,000 cases reported each year. Children who attend daycare, playgroups, or other large gatherings are at highest risk. However, there are simple things you can do to protect yourself and your child from this potentially deadly disease.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, also called a DTaP vaccine. Babies should get this vaccine at 2, 4, and 6 months old. Between 15 and 18 months, your child will receive another DTaP dose, as well as a fifth one when entering school. For most children, this is right before kindergarten, between 4 and 6 years of age.
The pertussis vaccine’s effectiveness decreases over time, so preteens should get a booster dose when they are 11 or 12. Children ages 7–10 should get a Tdap dose at a regular checkup if they aren’t up-to-date with the initial shots. Adults who reach age 19 without Tdap boosters should receive a dose during a regular checkup. Doctors recommend adults receive a Td or tetanus shot every 10 years.
Pregnant women should be particularly vigilant with pertussis vaccine doses. Doctors recommend Tdap doses for women in the third trimester of each pregnancy. If possible, women should get the dose early in the first trimester; this gives them more time to build protective antibodies and makes them less likely to transmit pertussis to their babies.
Other Forms of Protection
Your baby is most likely to catch pertussis from someone at home, like a sibling or grandparent. Grandparents should stay up to date on Tdap boosters. There is no substitute for vaccination and the antibodies it builds, but be vigilant in protecting your baby until it’s time for the first vaccine.
Whooping Cough Symptoms
Some people get whooping cough despite diligence or because they inadvertently miss a vaccination. If you suspect someone in your house has whooping cough, watch for a mild, occasional cough that worsens over 1 or 2 weeks. This will eventually develop into paroxysms or fits of coughing with a high-pitched whooping sound. The person may vomit during paroxysms and will be exhausted afterward. You should take anyone showing symptoms of pertussis to a doctor or an emergency room immediately.